With the sharp rise of interest in high-end mechanical watches over the past several years, luxury brands like Rolex, IWC Panerai, Omega and Cartier have become interchangeable status objects – with glossy magazine ads, flashy websites and extensive marketing and “ambassador”campaigns to back it all up.
Though each is certainly unique on its own, luxury watches as a category seems to have become relatively commonplace, used more for status recognition than personal expression.
Huge holding companies like LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, Swatch Group and Richemont have come to dominate the luxury watch market, once the domain of craftsmen.
The craftsmen still exists of course; and one quietly making a name for himself is Daniel Dreifuss, the founder and lead designer of Maurice de Mauriac Zurich. Founded in 1997 and based in Zurich, Switzerland, the innovative company makes a limited number of watches with pleasingly classic styles. Unlike many traditional brands with set models and associated designs, Maurice de Mauriac Zurich’s models are constantly changing – more art than production line.
“Tout ou rien” – everything or nothing – and always a goal in focus: this is Mr. Dreifuss’ motto. He wants to transform timepieces from tools into personal and unique companions. And the growing number of Maurice de Mauriac Zurich’s aficionados of want just that.
Where a Rolex Cosmograph is an exceptional and instantly recognizable timepiece, a Maurice de Mauriac Zurich Chronograph Modern is an equally exceptional yet likely unknown timepiece. That is a key to the brand’s growing popularity among the highly discerning horological cognoscenti – discretion and exclusivity.
I recently had the chance to interview Mr. Dreifuss. He pointed out that his brand’s exclusivity is the result of his approach to the craft:
“We have a very small controlled production and the watchmakers are highly motivated and love to work here; no chain work, no stress. My watchmakers all have a second job. They are musicians, hi-tech engineers.”
“With an average 15 years of watchmaking experience they choose to come here to work – to fulfill an inner wish. What they do makes others happy. This is luxury – to make others happy.”
Each Maurice de Mauriac Zurich piece is handmade by Mr. Dreifuss and his team of four watchmakers, recruited from the International Watch Company (IWC). Valjoux 7750s and ETA automatics are used in his extensive selections of chronographs, non-chronographs, classics, vintage and aviation inspired watches.
If a particular style of watch is not in the company’s catalog, he will gladly entertain a custom request. Customization is a welcome and unique feature of Maurice de Mauriac Zurich’s business model.
Perhaps most well known are its famous interchangeable bezels. This innovative option allows you to make your Maurice de Mauriac truly one of a kind. Based on the model of watch, other components can be selected or swapped; be it pushers, dial faces, bands, or even cases. With this unique attention to excessive detail, Maurice de Mauriac Zurich is fast becoming a sought after addition to collectors’ collections.
It also helps that Mr. Dreifuss comes to the watch business through a circuitous route. Having previously been a banker, he brings a creatively fresh and business-oriented approach to his brand. He appreciates equally a watch’s aesthetic and its technical precision. So, in his brand we find an obsession with exacting quality but also a genuine love of design and classically-based originality.
Equally important to Mr. Dreifuss is the provenance of each of his watches. They are Swiss timepieces, crafted in Switzerland by locals: “What many people do not know is that many luxury watch brands which are “made in Switzerland” are assembled and produced in Switzerland by French or Italian workers who every day leave Switzerland to go home from work.”
“Our watchmakers live here and work here. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and they see what I give, how much I try every day to find better solutions. We are one team; not boss and underdogs.”
The company also develops all of its designs in-house. “I don’t give any design work outside. Most companies farm out design work; that’s why all their watches seem so similar to each other. I’m not mainstream, I want my own way.”
As big watch fan, I am excited that a company like Maurice de Mauriac Zurich not only exists but is thriving as well. Mr. Dreifuss and his team show us how honoring the tradition of Swiss watch making can easily include a big shot of creativity and innovation.
And it’s no small thing to note that that review after review has put Maurice de Mauriac Zurich watches on par with the likes of Rolex, Tag Heuer and IWC – sometimes even surpassing those iconic brands.
Still, as he told me, Mr. Dreifuss feels that he has much to learn: “[When he started making watches] Breguet was 20 and already a genius. At 60 years old he constructed his best watches. Being in the watch industry – watchmaking – one needs a lot of time; a lot of knowledge, a lot of patience and a lot of passion. I have only 23 years in the business – I have still a long way to go.”
Not content to keep that philosophy at the office, he added, “I’m also a coach and a teacher to my 3 kids; they have to learn empirically same way – I believe in stomach, heart and head.”